Much has been written about this man who was born in the late 19th century and did much to modernise the Japanese warrior code and to bring it into the 2oth and now the 21st century.
Stories abound about his prowess as a martial artist: Rinjiro Shirata Shihan, one of his uchi-deshi, described his amazing power:
Although his hand was tiny, half the size of my own, his grip was crushing; it was impossible to move when he held your arm and even when he pinned you with one finger there would be a bruise on the spot for days. I could never comprehend how he threw us - all of a sudden you were flying through the air, almost floating on a cloud. You rarely felt knocked down. On the other hand, whenever he pinned you, it was like receiving an electric shock, the pain was so intense.Many stories also abound of judo & kendo practitioners, sumo wrestlers and brawlers who in the late 1930s came to test the prowess of O-Sensei. In spite of being warned that there is no fighting in Aikido "because shiai (contest) really means shiai (mutual killing), not one of those who persisted was able to boast of having beaten the non-fighter. "Who can resist the power of non-resistance?" asked O-Sensei one day.
And it is really this legacy that lives on today, nearly four decades after his death. The idea that Love can conquer the fiercest attack, that "true budo is to nourish life and foster peace, love and respect". Fighting then is not about physical strength, but rather strength of character.
And for me living in South Africa at this juncture in its history, this is a message that is important. This weekend is also the celebration as a country of throwing off the first shackles of an entrenched discriminatory system. Sunday, 27 April, was the celebration of Freedom Day. And 14 years on the shine seems to have dulled a little bit. There just seems to be a greater degree of intolerance, violence at all levels seems just a little bit more visible, the disparities a little more poignant. It is in the face of these factors that Aikido, and its underlying philosophy of the universality of the human condition and of harmony with the universe, not competition against it, teaches us to embrace creatively the challenges of living in a multi-cultural, highly stratified and diverse society.
Freedom meant the freedom to discover the other people who occupy this country of ours. Our Aikido practice teaches us to engage and adapt to a range of different people, emphasising the flexibility we need in order to maintain both our own integrity and the openness to being changed by those who touch us and our lives.
This martial art we practice, helps us maintain a firm posture in the face of an attack, whilst flexible enough to exercise our choices of how to deal with the situation; strong in our entry and soft in our turning; firm in the execution of technique yet flowing in application.
These are all important attributes in our engagement with our life in South Africa as we, each one in our own way, strive to make that freedom a reality.
So this weekend we concentrated on blending with the attack. For in this simple principle lies one of the fundamental secrets of aikido - by blending not opposing you can overcome. This blending lies in the way we hold our hand when we tenkan, in how we step off the line on an irimi movement, in the way we project uke so that they are taken by surprise as their attack goes beyond what they intended and they fly through the air. By blending, we can remain calm, unfazed almost, and in that way choose our response, in the moment, according to what is necessary - what is just right.
And ultimately that is what is meant by being in harmony with nature - doing what is just right - not too much, nor too little.
In the Art of Peace we never attack. An attack is proof that one is out of control. Never run away from any kind of challenge, but do not try to suppress or control an opponent unnaturally. Let attackers come any way they like and then blend with them. Never chase after opponents. Redirect each attack and get firmly behind it.Morihei Ueshiba